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Reeks was the ‘rock star’ designer of his day and had a career
spanning forty years.
A qualified naval architect, Walter Reeks arrived in Sydney
from his native Hampshire in 1885, aged 24. He had completed
his apprenticeship in England and when he arrived in Sydney at
a time when most boats were still built by ‘rule of thumb’, Reeks
was the first full-time qualified naval architect in the colony.
Reeks quickly saw the advantage of membership of the Royal
Sydney Yacht Squadron, where he stood to meet many of the
wealthy yachtsmen for whom he would soon be designing luxury
and racing yachts.
Reeks understood the complex rules of yacht racing used
in RSYS competitions and his client list became a virtual Who ’s
Who of Sydney’s wealthy establishment. He was also versatile.
He designed vessels ranging from small sailboats to pearling
luggers, ‘gentlemen’s yachts’
including the Lady
Denman, which is now housed in
the Jervis Bay Maritime Museum
at Huskisson, on the NSW south
Not as obvious as Ena and
Lady Hopetoun, on display was
Reeks’ 1889 -built 30-foot gaff-
rigged sailboat Jenny Wren. With
her long bowsprit, full keel and
pronounced counter stern, Jenny
Wren typifies the graceful lines of
her time and her designer. Her
owners, Madeleine and Neville Olliffe, are justifiably very proud
of this magnificent yacht.
Sadly, Walter Reeks’ personal life was less the fairytale than
would appear from the beauty of his designs. In 1895, his wife,
Mary Emma Kent, died six years after their marriage, leaving Walter
to bring up two young children, a son and a daughter. Happiness
returned to his life in 1900 when Reeks married Gertrude Inwood,
although there were no more children.
In 1914, Reeks’s only son, Kent, visited England as fourth
engineer on a steamer, where he was due to sit his engineering
exams. In a baffling tragedy, Kent was murdered during his stay
in England, his body found with bullet holes to his forehead and
into each eye. The murder was never solved, and Walter Reeks
was shattered that his only son, whom he hoped would follow in
his footsteps, had been taken from him in such a gruesome way.
With such amazing vessels as Ena, Lady Hopetoun and Boomerang
still on the water and looking fantastic, Walter Reeks must surely
rank up there with the best boat designers Australia has ever seen.
Next to Ena, directly in front of the museum, was the wooden
America’s Cup challenger Gretel II, her laid teak decks forming a
link between Ena and modern racing yachts, and highlighting the
evolution of maritime design. Beside them was the 25ft Ranger
class yacht, Cherub. The raised-deck yacht was built in 1948, and
was much-loved and sailed for many years by the legendary
yachting writer, Lou d’Alpuget. Behind Cherub was the sleek
Sydney to Hobart racer, Caprice of Huon, built in 1951. Our little
Saga was indeed in great company.
The array was dazzling, but while there were more than enough
beautiful vessels to take up the entire weekend, the festival was
more than just the boats.
From our position not far from the museum’s forecourt, we
could hear the entertainment, which was clearly enthusiastically
received. By the raucous sounds reaching Saga, the parade of
swimwear through the twentieth century was particularly popular,
with younger people amazed at how their predecessors dressed
for the beach and older people no doubt remembering their own
days in the sun.
There was the regular ‘toot’ of Lady Hopetoun’s steam whistle
as she ferried people to Goat Island, reminding passengers of
just how quiet and peaceful these lovely old steam engines
are. Another of the Sydney Heritage Fleet’s vessels, the motor
launch Harman, was taking visitors around Cockle Bay. Being ‘on
duty’ on board Saga, we were unable to attend many of the other
activities, but we heard that the workshops and demonstrations,
and other on-shore attractions were also extremely successful.
To those we spoke to, thank you so much for taking the time
to visit and chat, and for your compliments on Saga. We look
forward to seeing you again at the next ANMM Classic & Wooden
Boat Festival! h
The ever-popular Halvorsens were well represented, with a whole
pontoon of them!
Naval Architect Walter Reeks.
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